It’s a little strange to be writing this after the Oscars, or more specifically for this movie, after the Big Letdown. I had been rooting for Birdman to win, and it did, and I still love that movie despite the fact that it’s about Hollywood and Hollywood awarded it the Pudding and it’s all one big circlejerk, but the more space I’ve given to Boyhood, the more attachment I have to it. Richard Linklater really accomplished something here. I care about the Oscars just enough to think that this piece of art should have won Best Picture. (I’m cool with Iñárritu keeping Best Director, though. Splitsville is always the best solution to that yearly problem. And I sure am glad Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress. No contest. Someone deserved credit for showing up 12 years in a row.)
I listened to Linklater’s episode of WTF the other day, and hadn’t realized that I had seen a few of his films before. He’s a very nice, prolific Texan, and I recommend the episode. He also talked a bit about the autobiographical aspects of this movie, which made me like it even more. See, as I was watching, I couldn’t get around the “documentary” mindset. I had it in my head that he had just shown up once a year for twelve years and filmed Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke parenting this unknown kid. Nevermind their regular lives; this was the life they were leading. Turns out Linklater’s own mother was a lot like Arquette’s Olivia, on her own and working towards a college degree whilst raising two kids. That’s a credit to Linklater’s directing and writing. He infused the story with such truth, such reality, that recognizable movie stars faded into their characters. I was lost in their story because it all seemed so natural. More natural than any other movie I’ve ever seen.
What also disoriented me a bit — not necessarily in a bad way! — was the structure. There were moments that seemed rife with tension; I’d expect accidents to happen whenever anyone was behind the wheel, or fists to be thrown whenever a stare lasted too long, because I’ve grown up blurring the real world with the Hollywood fake world. But nothing bad really happened in this movie. The drama was substantial, and lingering, but it was never overblown. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) dealt with significant things as he grew up, but he handled them the way a normal kid would, because he is a normal kid. He was acting, sure, and especially as he and his character got older, but mostly he was just reacting. His parents were doing the acting, and he was fitting himself in, seamlessly.
Mason, and Ellar, didn’t age the way I expected them to. He starts out with a soft, cherubic face and quiet, innocent eyes. He’s got a bit of baby fat on him, and getting the haircut makes that baby fat stand out. He reminds me a lot of Sam Weir in Freaks and Geeks — younger and smarter than he looks, blissfully unaware of how everyone is maturing all around him. And then, one day, Mason the teen emerges. His face is hollower, his skin is acne’d and peach-fuzzed, and his eyes lose their innocence. He starts talking to girls, or mumbling to them. Quiet becomes introspection, introspection becomes artistic, and artistic becomes questioning. He ages fast, too, spouting cynical thoughts earlier than I can remember myself having them. He has an effect on people. He makes them wait for his response. He’s an enigma of sorts. I wonder if Ellar will dig into the acting world after this, or if he’s just going to dabble, or what. I haven’t watched many of his interviews, so I don’t know how close to emo he is, but I’d venture to say some. Mason is a character, for sure, perhaps one loosely based on Linklater himself, but Ellar has an old-soulness to him that Linklater must have seen early on, and must have known would get infused into the character that became Mason. And sure, he cast his own daughter as Mason’s older sister, Samantha, but Lorelei Linklater served the movie so well by getting out of the way. By having the attitude of a teenager without the overbearing desire for attention.
As far as I’m concerned, Olivia is a real college professor, hopefully finding better luck with better men. Mason the Elder is figuring out how to be a real dad 12-ish years too late, but hopefully right on time for his baby. Samantha is making it. And Mason is getting baked in college right now, expanding his mind, and becoming a man.